Report: Justice Department Convenes Forum to Expand Police Use of Drones with Zero Concern for Privacy Implications

Posted on February 27, 2019

Last week, the US Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the start of a forum designed to help law enforcement agencies across the country expand their use of drones. The release, which took the form of a transcript of opening remarks given by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, expressed the Justice Department’s desire to assist police departments in acquiring and incrementally deploying drones in jurisdictions where these devices are currently not in use.

Crucially, though, privacy or civil liberties concerns were totally absent from Panuccio’s address, not making so much as a cursory mention of the need to ensure citizens are free from mass, suspicionless surveillance. Rather, the remarks merely noted the need for law enforcement to “earn public trust,” a phrase so vague that it could just as easily signify goading the public into accepting drones by a piecemeal expansion of operational uses, from a benign initial mandate, as refer to establishing legal safeguards limiting the invasiveness of the technology.

Moreover, the fear that police drones would be deployed for the purposes of surveillance is not simply speculation. Panuccio explicitly included “surveillance” in his speech, as part of a bullet-point list of applications which “law enforcement and public safety agencies” in jurisdictions already authorized to utilize drones have embraced. In other words, the Department of Justice already acknowledges that drones are being used as a means of surveillance.

You can read the full press release from the Department of Justice here.